Herniated Disk

Living with a herniated disk can change your life dramatically. Let our team help you get back to a more comfortable, active and happy life.

A real pain in the back.

Vertebrae Basics

Your vertebral column or “backbone” is made up of 33 vertebrae that are separated by spongy disks sandwiched between each vertebrae called intervertebral disks. These disks are made of a soft, gelatinous material surrounded by a tough outer ring of fibrous tissue. As you age, the intervertebral disk can lose fluid, become compressed and lead to deterioration of the tough outer ring, allowing the inside part to bulge out – called a “bulging disk.”

Herniated Disks

If one of your intervertebral disks continues to degenerate – or is subjected to continued stress – the inner part can rupture. This is considered a ruptured or herniated disk, and is also called lumbar disk disease. Living with a herniated disk can change your life dramatically. The fragments of disk material can then press on the nerve roots that are located just behind the disk space, causing pain, weakness, numbness or changes in sensation. Although surgery can be an option for a herniated disk, we usually begin with more conservative measures to manage pain and help you live a more comfortable, active and happy life.

At INTEGRIS you’ll find top-notch neurosurgeons and a team of pain management experts who will work together to find the right balance of pain mitigation, exercise, lifestyle changes and therapy to get you back to feeling like your old self again.

Understanding Herniated Disks

The symptoms of lumbar disk disease vary depending on where the disk has herniated and what nerve root it is pushing on. The following are the most common symptoms of lumbar disk disease, but you may experience different symptoms:

  • Intermittent or continuous back pain. This may be made worse by movement, coughing, sneezing, or standing for long periods of time.
  • Spasm of the back muscles
  • Sciatica – pain that starts near the back or buttock and travels down the leg to the calf or into the foot.
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
  • Numbness in the leg or foot
  • Decreased reflexes at the knee or ankle
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

If your doctor thinks you might have lumbar disk disease, exams and tests will be required to reach an accurate diagnosis. This begins with your physician asking questions about your health history and symptoms and may continue with more in-depth tests:

  • X-Ray: A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of your internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within your body.
  • Myelogram: A procedure that uses dye injected into the spinal canal to make the structure clearly visible on X-rays.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT Scan): A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of your body, including bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Electromyography (EMG): A diagnostic test that measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle.

Specific treatment for lumbar disk disease will be determined by your doctor based on your age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the disease and your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies. Of course, your personal opinions and preferences will also be taken into consideration. Typically, conservative therapy is the first line of treatment, including a combination of the following:

  • Education: An understanding of proper body mechanics can help decrease the chance of worsening pain or damage to the disk.
  • Physical Therapy: May include ultrasound, massage, conditioning, and exercise programs.
  • Medications: To control pain and/or to relax muscles.
  • Bed Rest
  • Weight Control
  • Lumbosacral Back Support

When conservative measures fail, surgery for removal of a herniated disk may be recommended.

  • Surgery: You will undergo general anesthesia. An incision is placed in your lower back over the area where the disk is herniated. Some bone from the back of the spine may be removed to gain access to the area where the disk is located. Typically, the herniated part of the disk and any extra loose pieces of disk are removed from the disk space.
  • After Surgery: Restrictions may be placed on your activities for several weeks while healing is taking place to prevent another disk herniation from occurring. Your surgeon will discuss any restrictions with you.

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